James Fortenberry recount of the mission on 1943 Dec 28.
The following is an account of the massacre of the 376th Bomb Group, 512th Squadron, 28 December 1943, remembered by James W. Fortenberry with the help of a diary kept while a POW in Stalag Luft l, Barth Germany. The mission was led by Major Ralph P. "Red" Thompson (I'm not sure which squadron he was in) with Col. Graf as copilot. It was Major Thompson’s 50th mission. Our target was the marshalling yards at Vicenza, Italy. We were told later that the mission was recalled when we were about half way to the target. I saw the 98th turn back and go home. Several P-38's flew very close to us and seemed to be trying to get us to turn back; however because of radio silence, we did not know what was going on. As we crossed the coast at the mouth of the Po River, we received very heavy flak, and we lost the right stabilizer. Within the next few minutes, we were attacked by 109's, 190’s and JU-88’s firing rockets from long range in the rear. As we approached the IP, the lead Squadron made a Right turn instead of LEFT. The 512th, led by Lt. Paul Brown, had already started the correct turn to the LEFT, and as a result, we were left by ourselves. We did not last very long. I was in the second echelon, tail end Charlie. Lt. H. W. Wenzinger was opposite me and the first to go down. We were under very heavy attack (German interrogators told me they had over 100 planes and said we shot down 36 of them). Four 190's came at me head on and Sgt. Wissman and Sgt. Yavorsky destroyed all four. However, they knocked out two of our engines. Sgt. Porteous, tail gunner, informed me JU-88's were lobbing rockets at us; one hit the bomb bay, with a full load of bombs, setting us on fire. One hit the tail turret wounding Porteous. He was not a regular member of my crew, and I don't know his first name. Sgt. Abney and Sgt. Easley got his chute on him and dropped him out the hatch. I was informed he died in a German Hospital in Italy. After the crew had bailed out, my copilot (Steve Fleenor) and I tried to get out, and the plane exploded with Steve in the Bomb Bay and me behind him. We got out at about 1,000 feet and were both captured about three hours later. From a goofed up mission, some very good crews were lost that terrible day.
On the next page is a list of the crews in the formation we flew. I knew all of the Officers and only the enlisted men on my crew. Some of these men were on the famous Ploesti Raid of August 1943. What a loss to the Air Force because of a possible mistake.
Lt. Paul H. Brown, pilot
Lt. Art Fontaine (KIA), copilot
Lt. Charles C. Banks, navigator
Lt. A. W. Vigneron, Bombardier
Lt. R. S. Jackson, pilot
Lt. J. W. Crosby, copilot
Lt. E. A. Clark, navigator
Lt. D. R. McAfee, bombardier
Lt. J. W. Collison, pilot
Lt. R. B. Purdy, copilot
Lt. L. H. Snelling, navigator
Lt. R. J. Oakley, bombardier
Lt. Thomas Haig (KIA), pilot
Lt. W. Matthai, copilot Lt.
N. A. Troxell. navigator
Lt. Ward Walker, bombardier
Lt. J. W. Fortenberry, pilot
Lt. S. M. Fleenor, copilot
Lt. R. J. Cavendish, navigator
Lt. Pete Komlenich, bombardier
S/Sgt. L. E. Wissman, top turret gunner & flight engineer
S/Sgt. J. P. Stancil. waist gunner & radio operator
S/Sgt. J. J. Yavorsky (MIA), nose gunner
S/Sgt. M. L. Easley, ball turret gunner
S/Sgt. L. F. Abney, waist gunner
S/Sgt. XXXX Porteous (KIA), tail gunner
Lt. H. W. Wenzanger, pilot
Lt. J. D. Kerl (KIA), copilot
Lt. Robert Johnson (KIA), navigator
Lt. V. H. Caraway. bombardier